Evan Owen Jackson, Jr. (1836-1863) – Philadelphia Physician and Union Surgeon at Gettysburg

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Born: March 3, 1836

Died: August 4, 1863

Plot: Section 8, Lot 13

Evan O. Jackson Jr. was born in Berwick, PA. His father, Evan O. Jackson Sr. (born: 7/1/1801) was an attorney in Berwick, and his mother, Elizabeth Campbell (born: 10/18/1802) was a homemaker. The family moved to Philadelphia in the 1840s where the father continued to practice law.

Evan O. Jr. studied to be a physician at the Philadelphia Medical College, graduating in 1858. He was practicing medicine in Philadelphia when he received an appointment from Pennsylvania Governor Andrew G. Curtin in 1862 as an Assistant Surgeon to serve in the 2nd PA Reserves.

Gov. Curtin was a strong supporter of Lincoln’s policies in the Civil War and committed Pennsylvania to the war effort. Early in the War the Confederates were winning most of the battles, and Curtin, feared that they would attempt to move north and invade his state. He then organized the PA Reserves into combat units.

Dr. Jackson was mustered into the 2nd Regiment, PA Reserve Infantry (31st Volunteers) on 12/17/1862. This was the unit that was commanded by Col. Wm. “Buck” McCandless (See the McCandless bio on this same Mt. Moriah website). Dr. Evans served with this unit only for about eight months when he died. He was there for the “Mud March” (Jan. 20-22, 1863; a mission aborted because of weather and Washington’s lack of confidence in General Burnside’s leadership. He was relieved of command on January 26). Jackson next went with the Regiment to guard the City of Washington, D.C. until June 26 when they were ordered to Gettysburg, joining with the Army of the Potomac. At Gettysburg the unit fought at Plum Run and the Wheat Field.

On July 3 Lee’s forces were defeated at Gettysburg, culminating in the bloody repulse of Pickett’s Charge. On the next day the Union Army, including the 22nd, was ordered by General Meade to pursue the Rebel’s retreat, an 18 mile long wagon train with supplies, wounded, mounted soldiers, walking infantry & armament. Lee finally reached and crossed the Potomac, and relative safety on July 15th.

Dr. Jackson, however was ordered to remain at Gettysburg to care for the sick and wounded. It was here that he contracted typhoid fever. He was shipped by rail to Providence Hospital in Washington, DC .for treatment, but he died on August 4, 1863. His body was shipped to his parents’ home at 1938 Coates Street, Philadelphia, where a funeral was held. He was interred at Mt. Moriah on August 10th in Section 8, Lot w ½. His mother and father are also buried there.

Medicine and Civil War in the 1860s

It is important to understand the conditions, constraints, and environment Dr. Jackson experienced as a physician in the Civil War.

First, the practice of medicine was very primitive compared even to the early 1900s. There were 200 medical schools in the U.S., and schooling consisted of a two year program, but the second year was merely a repeat of the first year’s curriculum. Another path to becoming a doctor was to apprentice with a doctor who at some point if the doctor felt the student knew as much as could be taught he then left to set up his own practice.

Disease killed more men than combat in the Civil War. All the deaths in the war amounted to 618,000, and of that total 400,000 were due to disease. Little was known about sanitation and how the spread of germs contributed to disease. The study of antisepsis (the destruction of microorganisms that cause infection) was just beginning in Europe, not in the U.S. The lack of knowledge of infectious causes of illness led to the absence of basic sanitary principles. Doctors seldom washed their hands or their instruments between patients.

Crowded camp situations also contributed to the transmission of diseases. Latrines were placed too close to streams where drinking water was obtained. Fecal matter from humans and animals contaminated food and water.

Dysentery was the number one killer, and Typhoid Fever was the second most killer. Following those was Ague, Yellow Fever, Malaria, Scurvy, Pneumonia, TB, and Small Pox. Typhoid Fever, Dr. Jackson’s killer is caused by several bacteria.

Symptoms include high fever, severe headache, and a rash. Two percent of the entire army died from it.  There was no known treatment. A famous Gettysburg cavalry general, John Buford, died from it five months after Gettysburg. His cavalry unit is credited with, on day one of the battle, of discovering the rebel army approaching Gettysburg from Cashtown in the west and effectively halting and delaying them until the main Union army could arrive from the south and prevent the Rebels from seizing the high ground at Cemetery Hill.

Medical Staffing was also a problem. It was greatly understaffed. At the beginning of the war the Union had only 27 surgeons and 61 assistant surgeons.

When Dr. Jackson joined the 2nd Regiment, PA Infantry in December,1862 there were only 2 surgeons and 3 assistant surgeons for a unit totaling 900 men. This might be sufficient for a random fire fight, but it was not adequate for major battles when casualties were in the tens of thousands. For example: Fredericksburg (12,700), Antietam (12,500), Chancellorsville (17,000), Spotsylvania (18,300), and Gettysburg (23,000).

Gettysburg

Gettysburg is typical of the major battles: it lasted three days and then both armies moved to a different battlefield to try to take advantage of the terrain. Leaving behind, however, was chaos and carnage: bodies to be buried and, most importantly the wounded of both armies to be tended to. During and after the battle the wounded were taken to “field hospitals.”  These were barns, churches, houses – any structure where the surgeons could do their work. They used a triage system that would identify patients that they felt they could save: If the patient was hit in the head or torso, it was felt that the injury was fatal and they would not work on them. The lead Minnie ball tended, upon impact in those areas, to break apart destroying many vital organs. If the patient was hit in the legs or arms it was felt that there was a good chance of surviving by amputation. 75% of amputees survived.

Camp Letterman

Dr. Jonathan A. Letterman was Medical Director of the Army of the Potomac was directed to leave with General Meade’s army as it pursued Lee’s army after the end of the battle. He developed a plan to consolidate all the “field hospitals” into one hospital for more efficient control of the treatment. He appointed Dr. Henry Janes, surgeon for the U.S. Volunteers as the new director, who would be responsible for 21,000 Union and Confederate patients. The new hospital was named Camp Letterman and was located on the George Wolfe farm on the eastern side of Gettysburg along the south side of York Pike. Today this location is the site of a Giant Supermarket and parking lot. Camp Letterman was once the largest field hospital ever built in North America.

The hospital was established on July 20th and by August 7th all the field hospitals were closed and Camp Letterman had 3000 patients. They were sheltered in 400 hospital tents laid out in rows about 4 feet apart.  Before long it became a clean, efficient, and well managed medical care facility. Each medical officer was responsible for 50-70 patients and were assisted by many volunteer nurses who came from near and far.

By the end of August the patient population had dropped to1,600, by late October it fell to 300, and it officially closed on November 20, one day after Lincoln gave his Gettysburg address.

Assistant Surgeon Evan Owen Jackson

Within a hundred yards of the Camp, north of the York Pike there was a rail depot that brought supplies into Gettysburg and transported wounded soldiers to hospitals in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington DC. The specifics of Dr. Jackson’s journey through the medical system after he became ill are not known but more than likely he was transported on this railroad to Washington.

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